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Afghanistan after 2014 withdrawal of NATO forces by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

I don’t agree with Pakistan’s foreign policy position that the solution to Afghan crisis should be Afghan led and Afghan owned. I have conveyed this to our PTI foreign policy team on various occasions. I have following arguments in support of maintaining this view:

  1. Afghan crisis is not a domestic issue as there is an ISAF and NATO force engaged in the conflict.
  2. Presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan is mandated by the UN which makes it an international issue.
  3. Pakistan has provided transit and logistic support in the war on terror and NATO presence in Afghanistan. This makes it a stake holder in the issue.
  4. Pakistan has paid a heavy price, in lives and treasure, for supporting the international community in the Afghan conflict.
  5. As a front line state Pakistan’s economic loss is to the tune of over $100 billion; over 4000 Pakistani soldiers have died in containing terrorism and over 60000 civilian lost their lives in terror attacks.
  6. The stability in Afghanistan is important not only for Afghanistan but also for the South and Central Asian region. An unstable Afghanistan is a risk for the stability of Russia and China as well which makes them stake holders in this issue.

In the light of above argument, an international platform is required that brings all parties together to find a viable political solution for Afghanistan crisis in a post 2014 world. Inability to arrive at it before the departure of NATO and ISAF forces could translate into continued unrest in South Asia. This conflict has the potential to reach to Central Asian Muslim states as well as Northern Chinese province of Xinjiang.

Following are some of the suggested agenda items that should be discussed in the international platform for the settlement of Afghan crisis:

  1. The proposed force level of 325,000 for Afghan National Army (ANA), suggested by ISAF and NAT, is too large for a country that has no functioning economy and resources to fund it. The force numbers should be at a level that can be easily sustained by a country of 34 million. In the absence of resource to pay for it, this can become a source of destabilization for the whole region. A close look at Afghan history shows that a hungry army was eager to attack its neighbors. International stakeholder should reconsider the force level that can be easily sustained by the Afghan economy in the long-term. In the mean time, an interim support fund should be established to finance the training and equipment needs until the economy picks up and political order is established.
  1. Afghan Taliban refuses to accept the current constitution. Their argument is that it was promulgated under pressure of the foreign forces and does not represent the will of the Afghan people. On the other hand, President Karzai has shown willingness to include Taliban as a partner in the post 2014 political set up. The best option in this scenario will be to set up a transition government with a mandate to review and amend the current constitution within a specific time frame lets say 2-3 years. The financial aid should be made contingent upon the success of the transition government to complete the constitutional review and hold free & fair election to install a democratic government that represent all segments of Afghan society. The political process should be ‘Afghan led’ and ‘Afghan owned’ but the international community and neighbors should provide help and assistance if and when sought by this transition government.
  1. Pakistan has been the front line state in the war on terror and has suffered significantly for providing logistical support. Pakistan should not be used as a transit country only without a stake in the reconstruction and trade development of Afghanistan. Pakistan should be fully engaged in the reconstruction of Afghanistan as well as training of the Afghan forces. Pakistan is best suited for this purpose as contractors can set up project offices in Peshawar or Islamabad which is at a short distance from Afghanistan. Pakistan can also provide skilled labor that is in short supply in Afghanistan for the time being. Pakistani security establishment can provide training to the Afghan army as there is a cultural affinity between the two countries. This can help in making the training more effective as well as speed up the process.
  1. China, Russia, and USA should provide technical expertise and financial resources to exploit the mineral resources of Afghanistan. All these countries have extensive experience in mining and processing which can be helpful in exploring the known reserves. This will help contain growth of a shadow economy resulting from drug trafficking. Development of sustainable economy is important as Afghanistan can not rely on aid dollars forever to fund government expenses.

Afghan crisis requires international commitment and involvement to introduce much needed security and peace to the South Asian region. Sorting out the political system is a domestic issue of Afghanistan and should be left to the Afghan people. But to achieve that objective the international community and its neighbors have to come together on a common platform.

For Pakistan peace in Afghanistan is critical as this conflict has increased the influence of extremist and fundamentalist elements in the country. Pakistan is also eager to send 3 million Afghan refugees back home as they have burdened its economy for over three decades without any significant help from international donors.

The government of PML N seems eager and willing to take a lead in creating an international platform. Afghanistan was on top of the agenda of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recent visit to China and is expected to be part of his visit to Saudi Arabia in the early part of August. United States has also appreciated and welcomed the support provided by Pakistan in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia and United States can and should work together to develop the international platform to find a viable and sustainable solution.

Since Iran has an ongoing diplomatic row with the West about its nuclear program, Pakistan can develop a separate platform with Iran and Turkey to get their national interests taken care of in any future Afghan settlement. Similarly USA can develop a platform with US and India to ensure gain their diplomatic support and protection of their interests. It will require extensive diplomatic effort to arrive at a sustainable and viable solution to Afghan crisis.

The writer is a former President of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce-USA and member of Advisory Committee of Pakistan Tehrike Insaf. He has authored three books titled Islamic Social Contract, Freedom by Choice and Lessons from Quran. He can be reached at facebook.com/abdul.quayyum.kundi

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